Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Fantastic Chapter: Interactivity & Interaction

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , , ,

Page, R. (2010). Interactivity and interaction: Text and talk in online communities. In M. Grishakova & M.-L. Ryan (Eds.), Intermediality and Storytelling (pp. 208-231). Berlin: De Gruyter. doi: 10.1515/9783110237740.208. URL:

As our technologies change, so does the human story and our ability to tell it. Many researchers in educational technology suffer an unending interest in how digital technologies are affecting human interaction and learning. In this chapter, Ruth Page takes draws upon the field of narratology. She looks at interaction by “bringing together sociolinguistic, discourse-oriented and literary approaches” (p. 208).

Page views interaction from three main perspectives: modes of feedback, the audience, and the storytelling process. The chapter offers an interesting table showing how exploratory and ontological factors interplay with user-text and user-user interaction. Don’t let the jargon bother you. The results of her analysis are not only accessible, but very interesting.

When someone mentions narrative, we expect text-based narratives to proceed from start to finish. We expect the text to progress through a beginning, a middle, and an end—a linear path presumably as the author intended. Many websites are, in fact, set up in such a way. We start at the top left (in Western culture), eyes moving back and forth, targeting the bottom right. The latest technologies including the ever-so-fashionable social networking sites, blogs, and wikis, enable the reader to post comments, enter into story-related discussions, click on links to related topics, and even co-author a narrative-in-progress. Now, as in more ancient times, storytellers are once again in communication with their audience whose expressions and suggestions at times shape the story itself. As Page writes: “The affordances of computer mediated communication thus blend the written mode with the conversational style and near instantaneous responsiveness characteristic of oral discourse” (Rettberg, 2008 referenced in Page, 2010, p. 209). (Page mentions Ong’s concept of secondary orality (as per his book, Orality & Literacy (1982)—a great read in itself).

Feedback Channels

Interaction with digital texts (includes audio, video, graphics, and text) can involve the manipulation of the interface through the mouse, keyboard, joystick, or other input devices. Through such means, a reader can manipulate what they see, when, and how quickly. However, additional creativity is now available in the form of content creation. Page refers to Ryan’s (2006) categorizations of interaction which is made up of four dimensions: internal vs. external and exploratory vs. ontological. “According to these parameters, a reader can participate internally as a member in the storyworld (for example by role-playing an avatar in a simulated story scenario), or they can remain situated outside the storyworld in the external mode” (p. 212). Indeed, online narratives can fit on a continuum between the following dimensions:

Exploratory interaction: readers cannot change the storyline. They can only explore. The reader has “minimal navigational control of the narrative content” (p. 221).

Ontological interaction: readers can change the story or follow different options leading to a different path. In some cases, “the reader can control the content of the narrative itself” (p. 221). Wikis that offer full administrative/write access to participants are an extreme example of this form of interaction.

Page compares the characteristics of comments fields and message walls (as seen in social networking sites such as Facebook).

Comments Fields  


Message Walls

“Always text-adjacent” (p. 216). That is, they cannot stand alone. They are always posted alongside the narrative to which they refer.



Can stand alone. May or may not refer to a particular narrative.


Implication: “The closer the commentary’s textual and thematic connection to the narrative segment, the greater the potential the reader’s interaction has to shape the evolving narrative text” (p. 216).




In highly interactive environments the relationship of the audience (reader) to the text is altered. Participants become creators and co-constructors of stories. The personal characteristics of the audience members influence narrative development. “Interpersonal and identity work achieved by conversational storytelling may vary according to the speaker’s gender, age, ethnicity; the social distance between speaker and listener and the cultural or institutional context in which the story is being told” (p. 213). As Page, suggests the readers come into relationship with the author, text, and other readers. We might say that authors and readers periodically exchange roles.

Writers often write with a kind of audience in mind. Anticipating one’s audience can be difficult in the online environment as many readers will leave little if any trace of their visit. When, a reader does leave a trace, it will likely follow expected social conventions (p. 217). Consider, for example, the acceptability of pseudonyms, avatar-selection, and expectations of authenticity in some networked environments.

Of course, audience can be controlled somewhat by access restrictions. However, Page acknowledges that “even if the storyteller has delimited the scope of their readership to persons they know, the audience might still conflate groups of individuals normally segmented in offline contexts” (p. 217).

So, how does an author choose a tone and style appropriate to an audience that she cannot anticipate?

Storytelling Process

Page discusses the difference between serial versus episodic storytelling.

Serial Narrative Episodic Narrative
  • Posted in its final, completed form
  • Unlikely to be revised and reposted
  • Comments posted after-the-fact are not likely to influence its shaping
  • Evolve over time
  • Commentary may influence revisions, reposting, and new directions
  • “Emergent in nature” (p. 219)


Biographies, histories, completed stories, reports



Fan-fiction, collaborative writing, wikis, autobiographies (episodic in nature)



I found this section particularly interesting and so I will quote it at length:

In online contexts, the serial nature of the discourse creation is assumed to keep approximate pace with the personal events being reported. Thus blogs usually report on the near (rather than distant) past events while status updates of sites like Twitter and Facebook are even closer to the present moment in their public announcement of what the author is doing ‘right now’ (p. 219).

I very much agree with Page when she suggests that the immediacy of these “autobiographical fragments” is illusory as they are not reported in “exact real time”. Further they lack “retrospection” and

. . . a pre-determined narrative design arranged around a fixed teleological [purposeful] focus, the reader’s feedback is experienced as an intervention in the present moment which stimulates the ongoing production and anticipation of future updates from the author (p. 219).

As she considers serial and episodic narrative, Page notes that “the editorial interaction afforded by wiki technology would seem to be at odds with the factors which promote the creation of coherent narrative patterns” (p. 225). Such editing is non-linear and the identities of the authors can be concealed allowing degrees of authenticity. She gives the example of A Million Penguins. As the Wikipedia article here states, it remains undetermined as to whether or not the contributors succeeded in writing a novel. (Link: The final report for A Million Penguins.) The biggest problem was that the authors did not agree on social-editing rules resulting in “wiki wars” (p. 226).


Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.